State Sen. Stacey Campfield has requested a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe into an automated telephone poll last month asking voters about their opinion of him, saying the survey may have violated anti-harassment laws by making repeated return calls to the same households.
The Knoxville Republican said he met with a TBI agent, providing him with information, including emails from people saying they got multiple calls — 20 or 30 in some cases — that began with a declaration that “Citizen Opinion Research” was conducting a “quick one-minute survey” of voter opinions on Campfield.
TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm confirmed that Agent Darren DeArmond met with Campfield and accepted the information. TBI officials, in turn, took the information to Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols. Under state law, a formal TBI investigation must be requested in most situations by a district attorney general.
Nichols said he asked that TBI do some more preliminary research — contacting some people who sent emails, for example, to ascertain how many calls they received and when.
“Some of the information we got we need to verify a bit,” said Nichols. “It’s way too early to put a world of resources into it. … We need to figure out if a crime was committed.”
Nichols said that repeated phone calls could be a violation of anti-harassment laws. He said there was one mention of someone receiving 37 calls during an evening.
“Now, if that’s the case, that’s something we need to take a look at,” he said. “I suspect it might be some kind of computer error.”
After getting the followup information from TBI, Nichols said he will make a decision on whether to request a full-blown investigation.
Campfield and Richard Briggs, a Knox County commissioner and physician who has announced he will oppose the incumbent senator in the 2014 Republican primary, both say they had nothing to do with the calls.
Campfield said he believes many of the callbacks were to people who gave him a favorable rating in the poll, and the callbacks continued until the call recipient gave him a negative rating.
Briggs said that “just as speculation” he thought the poll might have been conducted for some local media outlet.
Excerpt from a Cleveland Plain Dealer story:
CLEVELAND, Ohio — R. Brad Martin was chief executive of Saks Inc. a decade ago when the luxury retailer was embroiled in a fraud investigation that found the company wrongly kept millions of dollars owed to clothing suppliers.
Martin today is the board member at Knoxville, Tenn.-based Pilot Flying J who will sign off on an internal investigation into whether Pilot kept millions of dollars in fuel rebates owed to trucking companies.
The similarities between the two cases and the close ties between Martin and Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam — for years they’ve moved in the same social circles and their family summer homes are a stone’s throw from each other in the Smoky Mountains — make some question whether Martin can be objective about any findings of fraud at Pilot.
“At the very least there was a cloud over his tenure at Saks,” said Christopher Ideker, a forensic accountant who has participated in many audit committee investigations for companies. “To me, you have a guy calling the shots on an investigation about stealing from customers who was investigated for stealing from vendors. That seems pretty straightforward.”
Leland Wykoff, a shareholder with Saks and its predecessor for 15 years, said he quizzed Martin at Saks’ 2005 annual meeting about how clothing suppliers had been cheated. Wykoff said the CEO took responsibility for what occurred on his watch.
“I leaned forward,” Wykoff said Friday, recalling his conversation with Martin. “I pulled my glasses down on my nose and I locked eyes with him. There was a pregnant pause and I said, ‘Then why are you still here?’ You could have heard a pin drop.”
Haslam, owner of the Cleveland Browns, said he initially didn’t know about any rebate problems at Pilot but said the company’s investigation now shows that about 250 trucking firms are owed money. He suspended several sales managers and took other remedial steps after the April 15 raid by FBI agents on Pilot headquarters.
Chief among Haslam’s moves was his selection of Martin, 61, of Nashville, to oversee the internal investigation at the privately-held company, running on a parallel track to federal agents’ work.
Saks Inc., owner of the venerable Saks Fifth Avenue department store chain, came into regulators’ crosshairs around 2004.
…Saks ultimately settled the SEC complaint about its treatment of vendors without admitting or denying fault — shelling out about $60 million, according to C. Warren Neel, who was head of Saks’ audit committee.
Martin, CEO and chairman between 1989 and January 2006, was never charged in the wrongdoing. His brother Brian Martin, Saks’ general counsel, as well as two other executives, were fired over the scandal, though also never charged.
Neel’s committee found no direct failings among other senior officers. But the committee criticized the level of communication between Saks’ executive suite and board members, and recommended reducing or eliminating bonuses for Brad Martin and the company’s chief financial officer.
Martin stepped down as CEO in a management shakeup within months of the SEC settlement.
Neel, who served as dean of the business school at the University of Tennessee for 25 years and had been invited by Martin to sit on Saks’ board, said the in-house examination was difficult and very uncomfortable.
“The social relationships for me were a major emotional problem,” he said. “I was with friends.”
Neel said he found no evidence that Martin’s brother or other executives “were a major part of the problem, but the SEC required that we do something.”
– Note: Gov. Bill Haslam was a Saks executive 1999-2001.
News release from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation:
Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has determined that the non-profit organization “Without Warning” did not investigate the case of missing Tennessee woman, Holly Bobo, to law enforcement standards as reported by Nashville television station WSMV which aired several stories during newscasts this month as well as a special documentary which aired May 12, 2013.
While speaking to TBI Special Agents, each member of the private investigative team admitted that they regurgitated information they had heard and read in order to talk about the case on television.
In addition, the founder of “Without Warning,” Sheila Wysocki, wrote in an email to a TBI Special Agent, “You all have to realize that we have been able to make any story surrounding this case a ratings winner and online success which was the goal. In return, someone may come forward to be the hero and give you all the right information to resolve this case.” Each member of the team stated the information provided to them came from the victim’s family.
News release from TBI:
Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation today released its annual study dedicated to crime in Tennessee’s schools. Produced by TBI’s Crime Statistics Unit, the study spans a three-year period between 2010 and 2012 and is based on crime data submitted by Tennessee law enforcement agencies to the Tennessee Incident Based Reporting System (TIBRS).
The reported number of crimes that occurred at schools decreased by 12 percent from 2011 to 2012 with 12,477 offenses reported in 2011 to 10,980 offenses reported in 2012. Examination of 2010 through 2012 data revealed a 16.5 percent drop in crime reported at schools over a three year period. This report is based on incidents submitted by law enforcement agencies and excludes offenses reported by colleges and universities. Those statistics are compiled in TBI’s “Crime on Campus” report that was released earlier this year. “School Crimes Report” Quick Facts
•Simple assault was the most frequently reported crime at 3,956 or 36 percent of offenses.
•Of the 3,930 weapons reported at schools, 82 were firearms.
•Crimes against persons made up the largest majority, nearly 50 percent, of reported school crimes.
•More crimes occurred on Thursday than any other day of the week and the month of February had the highest frequency of school crime.
•47% of the time, the relationship between the offender and victim was acquaintance.
•Marijuana greatly outnumbered all other seized drugs at school in 2012 accounting for nearly 75 percent of drug seizures.
It is important to understand the characteristics surrounding school crime and its offenders and victims. This understanding will help schools, policy makers, law enforcement and the public learn how to better combat crime that occurs at these institutions. To view the “School Crimes Report” for 2011 in its entirety, click here.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Brad Martin, the newly appointed interim president of the University of Memphis who once hired Gov. Bill Haslam as an executive at Saks Inc., was named Wednesday by Pilot Flying J to oversee an internal investigation into FBI allegations of fraudulent business practices involving rebates to trucking customers.
Martin is a board member of Knoxville-based Pilot, a private company owned mostly by Haslam family members. The country’s largest diesel fuel retailer is run by CEO Jimmy Haslam, the governor’s brother and owner of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.
Federal agents on April 15 raided the Pilot headquarters, the building housing its computer servers and the homes of three sales executives. The FBI alleges members of Pilot’s sales team deliberately withheld rebates to boost Pilot profits and pad sales commissions. No criminal charges have been filed.
Bill Haslam was president of Pilot when he was hired by Martin in 1999 to start up online retail operations for Saks in New York. Martin said at the time that Haslam had “contributed substantially to the remarkable growth and success of Pilot,” which had grown from a single gas station into a $2 billion business. Pilot’s annual revenues today stand at $31 billion, according to Moody’s Investors Service.
After 12 minutes of “easy questions,” Gov. Bill Haslam was asked about the Pilot Flying J investigation during a summit on manufacturing in Washington last week “to give you the chance if you want to say anything,” reports Chris Carroll.
“Oh, well, thanks,” Haslam murmured. “I guess.”
When the laughter died down, the governor offered a full-throated defense of the family business, but Jordan’s question prompted a pained hesitation that may redefine Haslam as political opponents search for chinks in his armor.
…Democrats already are connecting the FBI investigation with an old fight with Haslam. Soon after taking office, the governor rolled back financial disclosure rules for himself and other top officials. That meant he didn’t have to disclose his assets, many of which originated with Pilot.
“I thought it was a mistake before the FBI raid. I think it’s a double mistake to continue down that path now,” Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron said. “I don’t think any of us know how severe the conflicts are or how much he’s personally profited from what appear to be — what apparently the FBI thinks — were wrongful actions.”
..In an interview after the Washington Post event, Haslam emphasized the ongoing nature of the investigation, saying he has “no doubt that the top management of the company always intends to do the right thing.”
“No night sweats,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m going to run a re-election campaign based on what I’ve done as governor.”
Like Ingram, Haslam stressed that it’s been more than a decade since he played a direct role in the company. (Note: Tom Ingram is a political consultant to Bill Haslam and has been retained as a PR consultant to Pilot Flying J and CEO Jimmy Haslam during the federal investigation.)
“It’s been so long since I’ve worked there that a whole lot of the folks that are mentioned [in the affidavit] are people I don’t even know,” he said.
The governor made that statement six hours before The Tennessean newspaper published a story that implied otherwise. The newspaper identified 10 Pilot executives in the FBI affidavit who gave a total of $56,000 to Haslam in campaign contributions.
… (Democratic party tweets cited: “Nine Pilot executives mentioned in the FBI affidavit gave a combined $56k to @BillHaslam’s campaign.” “Gov. @BillHaslam, political campaign directly benefited from Pilot Flying J’s scheme to cheat truckers, small biz.”)
In response to the Tennessean report, a Haslam spokesman stressed the governor’s army of contributors and said, “It’s natural that a Pilot employee would be one of those.”
…Chattanooga Tea Party President Mark West said he thought the government’s aggressive approach means there’s something sinister behind the scenes. Some have speculated pure politics; leading the investigation is Bill Killian, the U.S. attorney in East Tennessee appointed in 2010 by President Barack Obama.
“It’s more than likely politically motivated,” West said.
Haslam rejected that outright.
“I’m not typically a conspiracy-theorist type of guy,” he said, “and I’m not in this either.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn.– Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam on Monday acknowledged a massive hit to the credibility of the family-owned Pilot Flying J truck stop chain following FBI allegations of the widespread fraud of customers at the country’s largest diesel retailer.
Haslam announced at the company’s Knoxville headquarters that he has suspended several members of the sales team after an affidavit filed in federal court disclosed secretly recorded conversations in which Pilot staff boasted about taking advantage of less-sophisticated trucking company customers.
“I, more than anybody, understand the damage that’s been done to our reputation, our brand and our relationships in the trucking community,” Haslam said. “Eight days ago I think we had the best relationships, the best trust in the trucking industry. And we now have the worst. I understand that, I accept responsibility for it.”
Privately held Pilot Flying J posted $29 billion in revenues in 2012. Haslam, who bought the Browns last year, is the brother of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who also maintains an undisclosed stake in the company founded by their father with a single gas station in 1958.
Jimmy Haslam didn’t name the people placed on administrative leave, specify how many have been suspended or whether they are still being paid. He gave a statement to reporters but refused to take questions.
By Steve Megaree, Associated Press
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents on Monday locked down the headquarters of Pilot Flying J, the truck stop business owned by the family of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and his brother, Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam.
FBI spokesman Marshall Stone told The Associated Press that the move was part of an ongoing investigation, but he would not provide additional details. FBI and IRS agents were expected to remain in the building into the evening, he said.
The FBI was keeping all traffic away from the company property, and Knoxville police patrol cars and officers could be seen outside the headquarters.
“Any details that would be released to the public would not be available for some time,” Stone said.
The company doesn’t know why FBI officials closed the headquarters but is cooperating with authorities, spokeswoman Lauren Christ said in a statement. Pilot Flying J retail operations remain open, she said.
Senate Judiciary Committee members on Thursday directed the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to let them view files of the agency’s probe into allegations involving 10th District Attorney Steve Bebb of Cleveland, reports Andy Sher. Seven members, including Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, voted in favor of the resolution. Two members, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney, of Jackson, abstained.
A similar effort in the House stalled at least temporarily after Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, blocked approval of nine bills and resolutions on various matters, only one of which involved Bebb, by the three-member Delayed Bills Committee. Approval requires all three members.
House GOP leaders say they intend to put that back on track today.
Reached by telephone Tuesday night, Bebb said, “I really don’t want to make any comment right now.”
The effort to obtain the TBI’s investigation of Bebb comes after Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper on March 25 released his long-awaited report on Bebb and alleged misconduct in the 10th Judicial District, which includes Bradley, Polk, McMinn and Monroe counties.
Relying on the TBI investigation, Cooper criticized Bebb’s office for poor judgment, mismanagement and deficient record keeping. But Cooper said he found no prosecutable evidence against Bebb on allegations of prosecutorial and financial misconduct, speaking untruthfully under oath and other offenses.
Bell and Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, had called on Cooper to investigate following questions raised about Bebb last year in a Times Free Press series.
“This is not an issue I take up lightly,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, told colleagues late Tuesday afternoon. “It is not an issue that is meant to reveal information that is confidential. But it is a serious issue and it’s important for the Judiciary Committee to exercise its oversight ability.”
In an echo of state Senate action Wednesday, a House resolution has been filed saying that body intends to ask for the state investigative file into 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Bebb’s office, reports the Chattanooga TFP. Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, filed HR 60, which states the intent of the House Criminal Justice Committee to review results of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s four-month investigation. The Senate passed a similar resolution Wednesday.
The lawmakers’ action this week follows the release last week of Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper’s long-awaited report on the TBI investigation he commissioned in August.
The TBI and comptroller’s office probed allegations raised in a Chattanooga Times Free Press series and elsewhere of financial and prosecutorial misconduct in Bebb’s office, among other issues. Cooper’s report found that Bebb used poor judgment and mismanaged the office but stated that there were no prosecutable criminal charges against him.
Shipley, who sits on the House Criminal Justice Committee, said in a statement Wednesday that the General Assembly has oversight authority over district attorneys general.
“Therefore we have responsibility to make a fully informed decision and determine if further action by this body is warranted,” Shipley said.
The chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee is Cleveland Republican Eric Watson.
In a statement through Shipley’s office Thursday, Watson recused himself from the resolution and review.
“Rep. Watson is part of the law enforcement community in the affected judicial district. He has therefore removed himself from the process,” according to the statement.
House lawmakers didn’t vote on the resolution Thursday. It could come up next week.